Emily Townsend

While Rain Floods the Highway Between Nacogdoches and Lufkin, TX

“Love is watching someone die / So who’s gonna watch you die?”

—Death Cab for Cutie, “What Sarah Said”

I am driving home at midnight from my boyfriend’s house

and I stop at the Love’s gas station between our towns.

This song grows softer beneath the October rain tap tap

tapping on the roof above the pumps. The neons

from the red and yellow lights Rorschach themselves

onto the slick pavement. Hours before he had asked me

“Am I saying ‘I love you’ too much?”

I had to think for a moment. I only hesitated

because for him to ask that, it meant I wasn’t saying it

enough. And it was true. Though I always said it back

I rarely said it first. He texts if I had gotten home

yet, he was getting worried. I reply yes but I am still sitting here.

There’s a strange comfort knowing if I were to crash

on my way home, he’d be the first person I’d want for responders

to call, to think “Oh, because he’s the most recent message,

he’s the most important person to her.” And I keep questioning

if my love is real or if I just echo whatever my brain’s

desperately trying to say. Maybe I do love the way his eyes

gleam when he looks up at the Christmas lights in my bedroom

or when I study my naked body in the mirror before

he comes over, somehow I see a sculpted Aphrodite,

white marble shading a shadowed fold above my pubis,

a crease of abdominal fat spilling out like spaghetti squash,

and I actually think, I’m beautiful. When we fool around

he handles me like we are an accident—rough, jumbled, colliding—

but after we’re done, we are two victims recovering together,

huddled on the curb beneath a glittering shock blanket, concealing the wreckage.

The rain doesn’t cease. I pull into the deluge, wipe away fawn-tinted

bokeh sequinning the window, and disappear back down the unlit highway.

When I reach Nacogdoches the red traffic lights transform into ambulances

inside my mind and I can finally see him there, where the blank face I’d always seen

in unfinished daydreams had been filled in with his, and I can feel his hands

on my thighs just like when he asked me, “Am I saying ‘I love you’ too much?”

I whisper my answer into the saturated atmosphere.

We Are Visitors Here

A prawn and great blue heron decorate the educational board

at Deception Pass, urges us to take nothing from the beach:

“Removing even one small creature would affect many others.”

If you were to remove me from the Pacific Ocean,

away from the yellow flowers like sneezed pollen,

away from the parabolic bridge that connects Whidbey Island

and Fidalgo Island, this would surely affect the following

years of our relationship. I will pinch my claws into your skin,

screaming return me to the waters of the strait,

where I belonged in the first place, where you should

never have touched my shell, plucked me.

Emily Townsend is a graduate student in English at Stephen F. Austin State University. Her works have appeared in cream city review, Superstition Review, Thoughtful Dog, Noble / Gas Qtrly, Santa Clara Review, Eastern Iowa Review, Pacifica Literary Review and others. A nominee for a Pushcart Prize and 2019 AWP Intro Journals Award, she is currently working on a second collection of essays in Nacogdoches, Texas.

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